Looking Toward the Future at Challenge 2030

As part of our Bicentennial Celebration we invited students from around the globe to pitch solutions to make the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals a reality.

Published May 14, 2017

Looking Toward the Future at Challenge 2030
Looking Toward the Future at Challenge 2030

As students from across the globe arrived at the New York Academy of Sciences’ headquarters in Manhattan for Challenge 2030, they imagined they were going to be participating in a unique event. “This is an amazing opportunity to think outside the box and come up with ideas for practical solutions to real world problems,” said Fatimata Cham, a New York City high school student.  Fatimata was one of nearly 120 Members of the Junior Academy invited to participate in Challenge 2030, part of the Academy’s year-long bicentennial celebration.

For some students, this was their first visit to New York City. Viewing the city from the Academy’s 40th floor headquarters after a 20-hour flight from Tanzania, Junior Academy Member Humfrey Kimanya could only smile and remark that, “It’s so different from where I live.” Challenge 2030 was not a science fair or a typical anniversary celebration. Instead, as befitting the Academy’s mission of advancing scientific research, education and policy, Challenge 2030 was designed to bring some of the world’s most gifted young students together with leaders from academia and industry to develop and discuss solutions to problems associated with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) announced in 2015. The SDGs seek to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all by 2030

Looking Toward the Future at Challenge 2030

The program for Challenge 2030—a two-day workshop including an evening capstone showcase of student presentations to ~250 VIP leaders from all sectors—began several months ago with high school students from across the globe working together with guidance from mentors through Launchpad, a virtual collaboration platform to develop solutions to various SDG challenges. Some of the questions tackled included how to prevent food from spoiling, how to clean water, and how to measure nutrients in the human body to prevent malnutrition. When describing the experience of working in a virtual environment, Junior Academy Member Talar Terzian of Florida said, “Our team members all get to contribute, get to work on our own schedule and to collaborate regardless of our location.”

Students and their mentors then tested their product pitches in a “shark tank” like set-up to the VIPs attending the evening event.  Eighteen teams presented their projects to representatives from academia, Fortune 500 companies, leading NGOs, scientific organizations, and other groups, including Nobel Laureates Martin Chalfie, Jerome Friedman, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Richard Roberts and James Watson, as well as science visionaries such as Craig Ventor, Svante Pääbo and Titia de Lange.  VIPs from the corporate sector included Indra Nooyi, President & CEO of Pepsico, Ted Turner of Turner Enterprises, and Paul Stoffels, Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson.  From academia presidents Lee Bollinger of Columbia University, Andy Hamilton of New York University, and John Sexton, President Emeritus, New York University attended. Other VIPs included the new Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Amina Mohammed and former Congressman Rush Holt, currently head of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences. These remarkable guests offered seasoned advice to the student presenters to help them refine their ideas and to encourage their work.

“Challenge 2030 was not an event that looked back at the Academy’s first 200 years. Instead we prefer to look forward to the next 100 years of developing solutions to the many challenges we face when it comes to sustainable development,” said Ellis Rubinstein, President & CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences. “Challenge 2030 was a celebration of what can be achieved through collective action. By tapping into the ‘world’s smartest network’ we demonstrate that by bringing scientists and innovators of different generations come together from across the globe we can achieve practical solutions to real world problems.”

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